Criminals are targeting high-end goods from luxury retail shops, and store managers taking the brunt of it say they’ve had enough.
And official figures show police are only catching and prosecuting a small fraction of shoplifting cases.
High-end fashion brand World founder Denise L’Estrange-Corbet said shoplifters are hard to spot and the process of holding them accountable is slow.
She said she finds quite often her shoplifters are “nice wealthy women”.
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By law, shopkeepers are not allowed to hold criminals in the store until police arrive and most shoplifters know this, L’Estrange-Corbet said.
“You can’t catch them and hold them in the shop until the police arrive because the police aren’t coming for another three weeks so what are you going to do, feed and clothe the criminal while you’re waiting?”
She said as long as police look at the crime as a low-priority the frequency of the crime would only increase.
“Whether you steal a can of beans or rob a bank you’re still a criminal and you should be charged accordingly, but unfortunately in New Zealand it’s not given a lot of priority.”
Because of this L’Estrange-Corbet feels like the law is on the side of the criminals and stores have electronic tagging systems, cameras, and guards at the door to even the playing field.
“Unfortunately consumers pay for that because you have to pass the cost on.”
There were more than 46,600 retail robberies, burglaries, and thefts in 2016, figures obtained under the Official Information Act show.
But only 14,000 offenders were dealt with by police and possibly even fewer ended up in court.
January had already seen 4400 robberies, burglaries, and thefts and only 1080 offenders were caught by police.
Retail New Zealand general manager Greg Harford said the figures were concerning, but a lot of retail crime went unreported.
“We think much of the issue is that, given other pressures, police often don’t prioritise retail crime, and that a formal court proceeding for theft is complex, time-consuming and is often out of proportion for petty offences,” he said.
Farmers loss prevention manager Michael Hulme said the few thefts that ended in a proceeding was understandable as large scale crime would always take precedence.
“If I’m a retailer and something’s just been stolen and I call the police and say come and investigate it, it’s probably not likely to get much of a response,” he said.
Resources needed to be spent on catching the person, not on gathering information.
Hannah Rutherford, who owns The Collective in Christchurch, said the fashion and homeware store has been hit three times in a week, with thieves making off with items worth hundreds of dollars.
She said on one occasion, a man browsed the store and waited until both staff were busy to make his move.
While one employee was on the phone and another was out of the shop, he pulled a jacket off a mannequin, rolled it up and hid it inside his coat before making a quick getaway.
A customer notified employees and security footage revealed his actions. Rutherford said they did not chase after the man, but when they later reported it to police they were told he had been arrested for another shoplifting offence.
It was one of a string of thefts at the store, with security footage showing the latest offences involved different culprits, she said.
“These are not the kind of people you want to confront.”
Rutherford said the stolen jacket, a woman’s size six, retailed for more than $1000 and was “clearly not meant for him”.
It was the third time the store had taken a big hit in the past week, with another bag and a jacket taken by offenders who were caught on the store’s security camera.
Countless minor thefts added to the tally, which would would not be totalled until stock take at the end of the year.
“It’s part of the retail business but it’s still a loss,” Rutherford said.
The store was tightening procedures to crack down on thefts and staff had been briefed to stay vigilant and be extra cautious. Usually, three doors were used to let people in and out of the store, but two had been closed to help staff keep track of customers.
A poster was plastered on the side door to highlight the crimes and ask for help identifying a blonde woman and a man captured on security camera.
Stencil employee Dan Tonks, who works at a streetwear clothing store in The Colombo, said theft was an ongoing problem in the area.
Someone would sneak into the store with the intention to steal about once a fortnight, but they usually gave themselves away, he said.
At Gucci’s flagship store in downtown Auckland, saleswoman Iloa Koko said shoplifting has been an ongoing problem among high-end shops in their Queen St neighbourhood like Dior and Louis Vuitton.
“It’s always an issue, especially in this part of town.”
Flo & Frankie director Chrissy Conyngham said their handbags, which retail for between $100 and $500, are favourite targets of shoplifters.
“We definitely have people attempting to shoplift quite regularly and it tends to be more leather handbags that they’re after.
“In terms of stocking expensive bags it definitely puts you off stocking them that’s for sure, you sort of think well how can we make money if they’re going to get stolen you know?”
Conyngham thinks bags are a popular target because, unlike clothes, a person doesn’t need to try one on and see if they’re the right size, making it easier to sell them at markets.
“Sometimes you can find security tags in some corner of the shop that have been pulled off but you don’t know what’s been taken necessarily unless you do a full stocktake.”